I am somewhat obsessed with lights, chandeliers to be more precise. You know the ones, they have loads of crystals, glass swirls; they are ornate, magical and over the top. But I love them. I long to have one in my house. I can imagine admiring it for hours on end and seeing the sunshine coming in through the window reflecting on the crystal surfaces. It would be a great contrast to the industrial look which dominates my inner city home.
My husband however, is quite horrified at the thought. He thinks I am being very Italian wanting an elaborate light fitting and hopes it is a phase I am going through. I tell him that it is in my blood – my mother comes from a town close to Venice and the island of Murano where beautiful glass is made – surely therefore it is in my genetic make up. And I think he might be coming into my line of thinking. Last weekend I managed to drag him into the Mirabella lighting shop on Lygon Street, Brunswick.
My first impression of Mirabella was how terribly low the light fittings were. In fact, I had to duck to miss walking into about half of them. The shop assistant chuckled when I pointed this out to him – he said they were set at the height where his father in law did not walk into them. Clearly he is not a tall man since to me they looked like they had an average clearance of about 150 cm from the ground. The shop has been around since 1960, so clearly business is doing alright and I love the fact that it seems to be a family business.
I imagine light fittings like this being found in a palatial ballroom in Italy, circa 1875, with loads of baroque furniture and ladies in gorgeous long ball gowns holding fans. Back then, all of the pieces would have been hand blown so slightly different from each other and delicate. Many of the lights at Mirabella are sourced from Italy. Most of them are such beautiful pieces, clearly designed to be the focal point of a room. The effect of having so many chandeliers in the same space like the showroom is a bit overwhelming, though I just love that over-the-top feel.
To look further afield, I entered the term “italian chandelier” into an internet search engine. I was quite taken aback when I saw the rather saucy definition that came up first. However that aside, I found beautiful shops that sell such objects – gorgeous bespoke glass blowers who make chandeliers. Here are a few links for those of you who might have a chandelier obsession like me:
- UK Chandeliers Italian that make divine pieces as per your specifications
- a somewhat less elaborate Custom Lighting an Australian company that sources Murano glass
- and the beautiful Nella Vetrina – from Italy.
I hope one day to be able to afford one of these glass blown beauties to create magic in my own home. It would be even better if I had to go to Venice to buy it!
Chandelier in Venezia
I love beautiful vases. I have a collection of them in the lounge room that catch the evening light through the window. Of all my vases, the most prized ones are the ones I bought in Venezia when I was there in 2010. To be more precise, I bought them on the beautiful island of Murano, which is a boat ride from Piazza San Marco in the centre of Venezia.
Murano was quite a surprise. I’d been told by a Venetian friend to avoid it as it was like a Turkish Suq. However travelling in late autumn I found it to be picturesque, quiet and simply delightful. To me it was like a smaller and slightly poorer cousin of la Serenissima – but one where you could feel comfortable and at home. The reason I travelled to Murano was to buy some authentic Murano glassware. In Venezia, there are shops everywhere peddling colourful “Murano” trinkets but I wanted to be sure I was buying something made locally, by an artisan and totally authentic.
I was lucky enough to be introduced to the manager of Schiavon Glass, Annarita Schiavon, a delightful and classy Venetian lady who took me on a tour of the Schiavon warehouse, which was founded by her father. She lead me through room after room of vases, glasses, chandeliers, jewellery – just when you thought you had seen the most exquisite piece, another appeared before your eyes. Not only were there modern pieces, but also delicate antique glassware. I settled on a set of three clean lined vases with gold leaf through them. I took a photo of them on the shelf before they were packaged to be shipped back to Australia.
Three Murano vases in the Schiavon warehouse waiting to be bought (by me!)
After shopping, we walked around the narrow calle (streets) and canals and marvelled at how quiet and peaceful the island was. We had a bit of lunch by the water and caught the ferry back to our little apartment in San Marco. I was terribly excited about my purchase. Now every time I look at my Murano vases on the shelf at home, I think of that glorious day on Murano.
As I am travelling back to Italy in less than a month, I will be returning to Venezia (perhaps to buy more Murano glassware) as well as staying at two agriturismi (agriculture plus tourism – a bit like vacationing in a farmhouse) – one in Veneto and one in Friuli. I look forward to sharing my experiences there with you. A presto!
Nothing reminds me more of Italy than a Vespa. Italians are very proud of them too as you can see from this photo I took in Corniglia, one of the towns in the Cinque Terre a few years ago where the two beautiful red motor scooters were shined to within an inch of their life and perfectly parked to be on show.
And who doesn’t love the image of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck driving through the streets of Rome in the 1952 movie Roman Holiday on a Vespa? They are images of abandon, freedom and fun with an amazing backdrop of Rome in black and white. The film helped catapult the Italian scooter into international fame from humble beginnings in a little factory in the Tuscan countryside between Firenze and Pisa. On the weekend I was walking through the streets of Collingwood and found Melbourne’s premiere Vespa dealer, aptly named Vespa House. It has a Roman Holiday poster as well as a beautiful red painted scooter on the external wall. I love the fact that there is a little bit of Italian post-war history just a few kilometres from where I live.
I did a bit of research and found out that the Vespa is a type of motor scooter made by Piaggio. They also make many other types of beautifully designed 2 wheel vehicles. Their website tells me that they are the choice for “discerning commuters who insist on a modern design with the quality that can only come from 60 years experience as a specialised scooter company”. They have got me convinced! The design of their motor scooters is incredible. So how popular are Vespas and motor scooters in general in Italy? If you have travelled there you will know that it seems like all Italians aged between 16 and 60 ride motor scooters. In a large and old city like Rome where there are lots of narrow lane ways and parking is a nightmare, it makes absolute sense to drive one instead of a car. They don’t use much fuel and they look beautiful, especially the ones made by Piaggio.
Riding one in a modern large and spread out city is a bit trickier. Melbourne should be filled with Vespas and other motor scooters. Sadly too many people are used to using their cars to get around in. However there are now more apartment buildings in the inner city and therefore more people – hopefully this translates to an increase in motor scooter numbers. If you are interested in beautifully designed Italian motor scooters, Vespa House is a great place to start. It has been there since 1956, and was established by a Northern Italian called Vittorio Tonon. The shop in Sackville Street, Collingwood is a show room as well as a workshop for parts and servicing.
As much as I adore Italy, one of the down sides is the noise of the motor scooter.
Not all Italians ride motor scooters - bicycles in Piazza del Popolo, Roma, October 2010
When I lived in Monfalcone, an army of them would race past making a hell of a noise and would elicit cries of maledetti motorini (damn motor scooters) from my zio Mario. Call me old fashioned, as much as I love to look at a Vespa and in spite of all my romantic notions of riding one, my preferred mode of getting around in Italy will always be la bici (the bike). Clearly many Romans agree with me.
And I can always just watch Audrey take her first ride again….
Italians are very good at making things. Think of the Pantheon, the Mona Lisa, anything by Dolce and Gabbana, the Cinque Terre and the Vespa. When I think of how good they are at making things that are timeless and look beautiful, I think of my mother’s Imperia pasta making machine. It belongs to mamma but I have it on permanent loan. It comes in a funky box from the 1970s and it is shiny silver and very heavy (and it is model SP150 if you are interested).
The best thing about this pasta making machine is that it works perfectly after 40 or so years of use. And it looks brand new. All that has ever been used to clean it is a black bristle paint brush used only for that purpose. It brushes away the flour and keeps the machine in perfect working order.It has a detachable wooden handle used to make the rollers go round.
Over the years it has made lasagna sheets, thin tagliatelle, thicker fettuccine in all sorts of flavours and colours and with different types of flour – green pasta with stinging nettles, chocolate pasta and my favourite in the colder months, pasta made with chestnut flour. It has also rolled out crostoli. It has seen us through good times, when we celebrated birthdays with friends and bad times, such as when my father passed away. It is part of my heritage and an integral part of me.
I LOVE my (or should I say, mamma Livia’s) pasta making machine. I know I will use it for years to come and one day I will hand it on to my daughter – though she will call it nonna Livia’s pasta making machine.